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Heather Brunner: The CEO putting diversity and equality in action

The CEO of WP Engine isn’t all talk; with 67% of her C-suite being women, 30% of employees being people of colour and 8% identifying as LGBTQI, diversity and inclusion at the WordPress hosting platform speaks for itself.


One of the first steps Heather Brunner took when she became CEO of WP Engine was to help substantiate the company’s core values around equality, diversity and “people feeling that they can be their authentic selves at work”.

With 67% of its C-suite and 30% of its overall workforce including global management being women, 30% of employees being people of colour and 8% identifying as LGBTQI, the WordPress digital experience platform cultivates an environment where everyone is welcome.

“Diversity attracts diversity,” Heather says. “It starts with your core values and being a place where people feel valued.

“Embracing diversity means embracing different people and opinions, and you must be open to others choosing different outcomes in the same circumstance.”

Heather and her team have made diversity the critical foundation of everything they do, and with it, they’ve seen phenomenal growth. Last year, the company reported US$132 million in revenue, and it continues to excel in its performance. “I think it’s inextricably tied,” she comments.

“Diversity infuses across all of our core values as a key pillar. We want to do the right thing. We are constantly thinking about how we’re building advocacy for our customers in every action. And we’re creating a space for our team to feel like they’re growing and thriving every day.”

“We’re empowering people, making people feel like they’re part of the ownership and creating clarity of vision and purpose,” she adds. “We see the results every day; this energy is fueling our performance.”

Cultivating authenticity

Heather felt that to help create an authentic culture, the company needed open-book management. Though it’s a private company, she wanted everyone to know the behind-the-scenes finances. “At first I think people were surprised. But now our employees are all shareholders, and they work so hard,” she explains.

“I would encourage every startup and company to consider giving equity and ownership to each employee if it’s possible,” she continues. “I believe it empowers your team and increases commitment. I also think the benefits of transparency outweigh the risks.”

The second necessary change is equal pay for equal work. Implementing this in the company required an analysis of every job, at every level and every location, to make sure there was no difference between gender in roles, along with ongoing recruitment and market data evaluation.

“We don’t ask for previous pay history, which perpetuates pay inequity.”

“Whether a candidate is male or female, we pay the same for the role. The process takes commitment and thought, but we are proud to be an equal-pay employer,” Heather says.

Heather describes the WordPress culture in general as a diverse technology community. Accessibility is the nature of its technology, which attracts different kinds of people. “It could be a mum building a business in her spare time for her family,” she explains.

“Or someone who didn’t have the means or circumstance to be able to go to college. But they started to freelance and build websites for local restaurateurs or dentists or other professionals. WordPress is how they build and sustain their livelihood.”

Reap the rewards of open-source

As a successful business leader, Heather is open to experimentation in many ways, such as the use of open-source software, or software that is developed for the public and freely available. She wants to challenge the notion of open sources “not being enterprise-grade”.

“With millions of sites, there is rapid growth of numerous types of open-source communities and systems,” she explains.

“You have much more flexibility, options and the ability to have cost-effective technology solutions across the spectrum of technology, in particular around web development with WordPress. Be more open to experimentation and try some proof of concepts or pilots around key technology initiatives.”

WP Engine continues to aspire to be one of the most trusted brands in WordPress. The company has gone from being a managed host for WordPress to a software platform, and now its DXP (digital experience platform) is building more features, capabilities and tools for sophisticated websites.

“As we look forward to 2020, we see WP Engine as being elevated to the home for some of the most respected brands of WordPress,” Heather says. “We want to keep being a company that is bringing forth the mission of WordPress to help people democratise publishing and help our customers win.”

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